The affiliate marketing industry is a multibillion-dollar industry with exciting professional opportunities for creators. It’s fast becoming a common way for ecommerce brands to market their products and services.
Ecommerce sales are expected to reach $6.3 trillion globally in 2023. Data shows affiliate marketing is an effective driver of ecommerce sales, with 79% of marketers leveraging it for customer engagement.
Feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start? This beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing will help you get up and running fast. Learn everything from how to find an affiliate program to how an affiliate link works and start earning as an affiliate partner.
How affiliate marketing works
Affiliate marketing is a sales model where a company pays a third-party to sell their product or service. If you’ve ever listened to a podcast or seen a social media influencer promote a product, they could be affiliate marketers. In exchange for recommending products or services to their audience as part of an affiliate program, they might get a commission off of any sales that result in their referral.
After you choose an affiliate marketing program, you’ll receive a unique link or code that will allow the companies to track every customer you send their way. When a customer purchases the product through your link, you earn a commission.
You can find an affiliate program directly through a company or via an affiliate network like ShareASale. Regardless, here’s how the standard affiliate program works:
1. You promote Store A on your website, blog, or social network.
2. Someone clicks your unique link.
3. They make a purchase in Store A.
4. The company or affiliate network records the transaction.
5. The purchase is confirmed by Store A.
6. You receive a commission.
If you click on his link in bio, you’ll see links to all the brands that Caullen promotes, including MVMT. When you click one, a cookie will be stored on your device. So even if you exit out of the browser, when you come back that day, the cookie is still tracking your activity.
If you then decide that you want to buy a MVMT watch, when you check out, 8% of that purchase will go into @caullenfit’s pocket. Caullen also offers his audience a 15% discount via the affiliate link on his link-in-bio page.
How to start affiliate marketing
- Decide on a niche
- Choose your affiliate platform
- Find a relevant affiliate marketing program
- Create valuable content
- Build an audience
- Follow FTC regulations
1. Decide on a niche
A niche is the segment of a larger market defined by its own unique characteristics. It becomes your specialty and the topic people will know you for. Travel blogging would be an affiliate marketing niche, as would pet care or tiny homes.
The top affiliate marketing niches found by data analytics platform Coupler are:
2. Wealth building
3. Health and Fitness
4. Fashion and beauty
These aren’t your only options, of course. There are hundreds of options available. So how do you go about finding a profitable niche that interests you? Consider the following:
- Do you want to learn more about the niche? You’ll want to become a subject matter expert on your topic over time by constantly learning and staying on top of trends.
- Can you solve problems? Affiliate marketers often have special training or experience in a specific niche. This gives them new ways to present information and help people solve problems.
- Is it profitable? Run a quick search on Google, research competition, and read market reports to see how popular your niche is. A busy niche means there are people ready to buy.
The goal is to choose a niche that you enjoy. You won’t be making six figures overnight. Running an affiliate business takes commitment and time. If you already enjoy doing it, you’ll be more likely to continue to do it despite how much money might be rolling in.
2. Choose your affiliate platform
The next step is considering what platform you’ll use for your business. Each affiliate marketer has a different platform and approach.
There are a two main methods to choose from as a beginner:
Niche topic or product review site
These sites review companies’ products for a specific audience and compare products with each other. They can also publish buyer’s guides and product tutorials to help shoppers make buying decisions, such as the The New York Times’ Wirecutter site.
Content creators include bloggers, social media influencers, and YouTubers. They continuously publish content that resonates with their audience to gain influence and encourage clicks.
A good example is how Ryan Robinson’s blog focuses on freelancers. He regularly publishes new content related to freelancing to draw in an audience and promotes brands that he’s affiliated with.
Authenticity and audience engagement are two critical elements for affiliate marketing. If you can’t connect with your audience, they likely won’t buy the products you recommend.
Not sure which platform to choose? Start on a platform you’re comfortable with. If you enjoy creating social media videos, make Instagram your platform. If you’re a good writer, maybe blogging is the best route for you. Creating on platforms you already understand will help you create content that connects with your audience and drives affiliate sales.
3. Find a relevant affiliate marketing program
It’s important to make sure you find the affiliate program that is right for you. Make sure not to just focus on high-paying affiliate programs but to find the affiliate offers and products that will appeal to your audience.
A few things to look for when choosing an affiliate program include:
- Does the affiliate program have a great market reputation? You don’t want to work with partners that people don’t trust. Fortunately, affiliate networks vet programs and present reliable, profitable merchants you can work with.
- Does the affiliate program have a good commission rate? You want to earn good money for your time and effort. Many programs pay upward of 10% to 20% commissions for a sale. Choose a rate that works for you.
- Does it have a high earnings per click (EPC) rate? EPC is an industry-wide metric that shows the average affiliate earnings per 100 clicks across a merchant’s affiliate program. Networks like ShareASale show you this information for each merchant.
Finding the right programs is critical to running a successful affiliate business. For example, True Crime Obsessed is a comedic podcast where best friends and hosts Patrick Hinds and Gillian Pensavalle talk with a comedic spin about true crime documentaries.
The podcast promotes a variety of products and services in episodes and a dedicated affiliate marketing promo code page related to its niche. When a listener clicks an affiliate link and buys a product, they receive a commission.
To find good affiliate opportunities, ask your favorite brands if they have an ambassador or affiliate program. That way you can promote products you already appreciate and enjoy.
You can also find products and brands to work with in the following affiliate marketplaces:
Get paid by brands you love with Shopify Collabs
Shopify Collabs makes it easy to find brands that match your vibe, build affiliate relationships, get paid for what you sell, and track everything in one place.
4. Create valuable content
Statista reports that in 2022, people spent an average of six hours and 35 minutes per day online, globally. People are consuming content, but it’s not enough to create content and slap an affiliate link on it. If you want to stand out, you have to make yours valuable to your audience.
Blogs are a good way to do that. Findstack reports that 65% of all affiliate marketers generate traffic through blogging alone. Kelly Marohl from The Greenspring Home advises that new affiliate marketers should “focus on publishing high-quality content … and build a highly engaged audience. That will pay off in dividends later!”
According to one report, people all over the globe spent an average of 151 minutes on social media per day. So, if you’re asking if you have to have a website in order to be an affiliate marketer, the answer is no.
Promoting an affiliate link on social media is an easy and free way to get your content into the hands of the people who might be interested in it. Even platforms like Pinterest have affiliate opportunities using the pins on your various boards.
There are plenty of affiliate marketers who operate entirely on social media, like @taylerfit who built her TikTok account to over 375,000 followers with fitness content. She makes money promoting brands like 1UpNutrition through affiliate marketing.
@taylerfit @1UpNutrition code TAYLERFIT saves you 20%! Strawberry burst flavour 🍓💥 #gymtok #gymhumor #preworky #fyp ♬ Funny Song – Cavendish Music
On Tayler’s link-in-bio page, fans can find affiliate links to the products she promotes in her content. She makes affiliate income every time a fan clicks and buys one of those affiliate products.
If you have a blog or YouTube channel, research and understand search engine optimization (SEO). BrightEdge reported that SEO drives 83% of search engine traffic, compared to 17% from paid search. Doing some keyword research and implementing SEO well is crucial to reaching your target audience. Email marketing is another way to keep those customers who’ve already visited your site interested.
5. Build an audience
To build an audience, first you have to reach them. Creating email lists helps you to directly reach your audience. You can send newsletters, updates on new content, and exciting offers directly to anyone who signs up to be a part of your email list.
If you’re operating mostly on social media, follow and tag influencers who may be interested in your niche. The name of the game is to do what you can to increase the traffic to your website or social media page.
Reeling them in is just the first part, now it’s important to build trust between you and your audience to keep them coming back.
Don’t just try and sell anything to your audience in order to gain a quick buck. The more they feel your genuine interest, the more they will trust you.
6. Follow FTC regulations
The FTC protects consumers from deceptive marketing practices. Unfortunately, there are affiliate marketers out there who are more than willing to promote scams and misleading products and services in order to make a quick buck.
To prevent this, the FTC requires that any affiliate marketer disclose their financial relationship with any brands or products that they are promoting. In short, you need to tell your audience that you’re getting compensated for promoting the products you’re promoting, and you must always tell them when a link is an affiliate link in order to stay compliant with the FTC.
If you’re not in the US, you may be subject to different laws and regulations concerning promoted content. Ensure that you’ve checked with the relevant government body in your region.
What are the benefits of affiliate marketing?
Now that you understand how affiliate marketing works, let’s look at a few top benefits.
You don’t own the products you’re promoting
Most public affiliate programs are larger and don’t require that you buy any of the products you recommend, like Amazon Associates. You simply join their affiliate program, grab your link, and post it on your page or website.
It’s perfect when you’re starting out, because you don’t have to invest a bunch of money into physical or digital products off the bat. You can take some time and experiment and see which types of products and services are gaining the most traction with your audience.
It’s a passive income source
Once you’ve established the groundwork to keep traffic coming to your site, you’re pretty much set. All you have to do is choose the right affiliate partners that will appeal to your audience and post those links. Your unique links and codes will continue to bring in a recurring commission for you, as long as you keep them visible on your site.
I scaled my affiliate marketing business, especially during the challenging COVID pandemic, and made it profitable in a short period.
It has high earning potential
Affiliate marketing has six-figure earning potential for newcomers. You may not bring in that sort of money right at the jump, but there is real potential for affiliate marketing to replace your 9-to-5. Pat Flynn, for example, reported to Business Insider that he earns up to $170,000 per month thanks to the affiliate marketing business.
Adventure junkie and founder of Biking Know How Rohan Kadam also turned his blog from a passion project into a successful online business by using affiliate sales. “I scaled my [affiliate marketing] business, especially during the challenging COVID pandemic, and made it profitable in a short period,” he says. So Rohan quit his full-time job at JP Morgan Chase and is now a full-time blogger and affiliate marketer.
How much can you make as a new affiliate marketer?
Commission rates vary depending on the company you’re working with. The Amazon associates program offers anywhere from a 1% to 20% commission on sales. Others, like ButcherBox, offer up to a $20 commission per sale; Thrive Market offers $5 to $30 per commission. There are even affiliate programs that offer recurring commissions as high as 30% per sale.
How much you can make with affiliate marketing is completely up to you. It’ll depend on how much traffic you can generate toward your site(s), how well you gauge which affiliate products and services your audience will respond to, and the affiliate programs you join.
Statista reports that the affiliate marketing industry reached $8.2 billion in the US in 2022, up from the $5.4 billion it was valued at in 2017.
So it’s a growing market. In fact, according to Google Trends, there has been increased interest in affiliate marketing. Searches went from a value of 43 (out of 100) from Jan. 2, 2022, to Jan. 8 2022, to 92 the week of July 23, 2023, to Jan., 29, 2023, indicating the search term more than doubled in popularity.
Earn passive income with successful affiliate marketing
There’s no doubt an affiliate income is a smart way to earn money online. With a little time and effort upfront, you can build an audience and earn consistent payouts through your affiliate site—all without taking on too much risk.
Affiliate marketing for beginners FAQ
How do I start affiliate marketing as a beginner?
Decide on a niche Choose your platform Find relevant affiliate marketing programs on affiliate networks Create valuable content Build an audience Follow FTC regulations
How much do beginner affiliate marketers make?
Affiliate marketing commision rates start as low as 1% of the total sale price of a product but beginner affiliate marketers can make up to 30% commission per sale. Affiliate marketers make an average of $59,060 annually. However, almost 60% report they make less than $10,000. For beginners, expect to learn closer to the low end to start as you build your affiliate business.
What are the best affiliate marketing opportunities for beginners?
The best affiliate marketing opportunities for beginners are programs that are related to that creator or marketer’s niche. Look for programs that pay higher commission rates and those related to trends and popular search terms. Search for these opportunities on affiliate network or marketplace like:
Is affiliate marketing worth it for beginners?
What are the 3 main types of affiliates?
The three main types of affiliates are unattached affiliate marketing, related affiliate marketing, and involved affiliate marketing.